As far as I can tell, there are several different parts of learning a language. Listening, reading, understanding individual words, and understanding in context. I will share my opinion of each, then sum up learning a new language as a whole.
The easiest part, especially when you don’t understand a single thing. If you’re doing things like dishes, or laundry, you can listen to material in your target language. This step is absolutely crucial to acclimate to the sounds and nuances of your target language, without the added pressure and distraction of trying to understand anything. Once you’re more advanced, you will understand more and more of your listening material, however, you must continue listening without stopping to listen. I recommend the news for complete beginners, and podcasts once you’re more advanced. Make sure you’re exposed to a variety of accents in your target language.
Use LingQ for this. If you’re a beginner in the language, or working with a particularly hard passage, I suggest listening to while reading the whole thing, working through it piece by piece (either phrases or sentences, whatever helps you understand it) with the audio (translate a few words so they make sense to you, play the matching audio, and continue), then listen + read again. You will not understand perfectly or remember every single word. But, when you’re doing your listening, you’ll notice that you understand more than you did before, even if only by a couple words.
Understanding individual words:
This can lead people into a false sense of understanding the language. Of course, you need to know a bunch of words, but they are worthless without context. Take the sentence “He was shown up”. You can know what every single word means and still not understand that someone did better than him at that thing he did. You will go through a phase of only understanding a few words. With the listening, you will be building contexts around them, and it will be easier for you to understand phrases and sentences instead of single words.
Understanding in context:
The only way to really understand and communicate in a language. It requires knowing what words normally come together and what they mean when they’re together vs separate. This is where the listening will really pay off. You won’t realize that it’s making much difference, until you suddenly realize that you understand things from context, that wouldn’t make sense on a word by word basis.
Get as much exposure as you can, and don’t worry about how many more words you think you know today, compared to yesterday, or compared to a week ago. Your brain will be working on it without telling you. I emphasize the listening because it’s the first way people learn language. We aren’t babies, but we still have the ability to learn new languages through lots of exposure, just like babies. Unlike babies, we can already read, so learning to read in a new language, and maybe even a new alphabet, is considerably easier.
Learned Spanish in school, was ok at it, but it’s useless to me in spite of knowing quite a bit of vocabulary.
I’ve been living in Israel and studying Hebrew for 4+ years, and I made little progress until I started using LingQ regularly, about a month and a half ago.
I lacked motivation to only learn one language, so I decided to add Russian, since almost everyone in my family speaks Russian as a first language.
I don’t like Russian, so I needed more motivation. I’ve been interested in being more exposed to Africa, so I chose Swahili. It is written in the Latin alphabet (unlike Hebrew and Russian), it is straightforward to pronounce, and it is a lingua franca in Africa. Most of all, I really like it.
So for the last month and a half or so, I’ve been studying 3 languages, 2 of which are completely new to me. Since LingQ supports Hebrew and Russian, I aim for 50 LingQs a day in each. Sometimes I end up with more, sometimes less. Swahili I’m kind of winging with an odd assortment of tools that aren’t as good as LingQ. I hope this helps answer your question.
PS. What is your target language?